Bush, Congressional Leaders Discuss Agenda of Outgoing Congress

By Stephen Kaufman
Washington File White House Correspondent

Washington - Despite losing majority representation in the next session of Congress, which convenes in January 2007, President Bush and the Republican leadership retain partisan advantage in the current Congress and have a number of legislative items they will seek to pass in the “lame-duck” session that begins November 13.

Bush met November 9 with the top two Democrats in the House of Representatives, Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi of California and Congressman Steny Hoyer of Maryland. On November 10, he plans to meet with Senators Harry Reid of Nevada and Dick Durbin of Illinois, the top Democrats in the Senate.

“It is our responsibility to put the elections behind us and work together on the great issues facing America,” Bush said ahead of his meeting with Pelosi and Hoyer.

Following their meeting, Pelosi acknowledged policy differences with the president, but said she and her party will debate the issues “in a way that gets results for the American people.”

“We’ve made history,” she said, “now we have to make progress.”

A lame-duck session of Congress refers to the portion of the session that is held between the November election and the adjournment of Congress. (The next Congress begins its first session in January 2007.)  Some members of the current Congress, the 109th, will not be returning for the 110th Congress.  The term "lame duck" for elected official who are still serving but have failed in their bids for re-election dates to 18th century Britain.

The president said there are issues that need to be addressed in the final days of the 109th Congress, including the passage of the remaining federal spending bills (only those for the Defense and Homeland Security departments have been passed), energy legislation that would open some new areas of the Outer Continental Shelf to oil drilling, and authorization of the administration’s terrorist surveillance program.

“[T]hat means the next few weeks are going to be busy ones,” he said.


Bush said the lame-duck Congress also has important foreign policy items on its agenda, such as enabling the United States to cooperate with India on civilian nuclear technology and authorizing normal trade relations with Vietnam, a step that would enable the United States to recognize that country as a member of the World Trade Organization.

The president will be visiting Vietnam to attend the November 18-19 Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) conference.

White House press secretary Tony Snow said the Bush administration also is seeking Senate approval of the nominations of John Bolton as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and Robert Gates as secretary of defense. Outgoing Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is expected to remain in his position until Gates’ confirmation. The White House formally sent Bolton’s nomination to the Senate on November 9. Currently, Bolton is serving under a temporary “recess” appointment that will expire in January 2007, when the 110th Congress convenes.

Snow said much of the work to be done in completing the legislative agenda and confirming nominees involves getting the necessary paperwork to lawmakers on Capitol Hill before the lame-duck session ends.

“You now have a very short deadline for a lot of the necessities getting up to the Hill.  So we’re hoping to get it done in the lame duck and we’ll do everything we can to accommodate everybody,” Snow said.

Senator Reid said the Democrats also believe the civil nuclear agreement with India is important to conclude during the lame-duck session.

“India is the largest democracy in the world,” Reid told reporters November 8. “We want to work with them, and [it] is important we move along that line.”

Reid also said the Democrats want to schedule legislation addressing bioterrorism, pandemic flu preparedness, offshore oil drilling, tax incentives to encourage alternative energy production, assistance for university tuition, as well as pass the remaining federal spending bills.

In his remarks, Bush also called for cooperation with the new Democrat-controlled Congress on Iraq, saying he is “open to any idea or suggestion that will help us achieve our goals of defeating the terrorists and ensuring that Iraq’s democratic government succeeds.”

He also said that both parties have a responsibility to ensure that the 149,000 American troops deployed in Iraq “have the resources and support they need to prevail.”

The Senate Armed Services committee is scheduled to meet November 15 to hear testimony on U.S. military operations Iraq and Afghanistan from military commanders, intelligence leaders and State Department officials.

The full text of the Bolton nomination is available on the White House Web site.

For additional information on the U.S. elections and their aftermath, see 2006 Midterm Elections.